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Remarks by Bill Frist to the 2003 National Conference of the Council on Foreign Relations

Author: William H. Frist
June 6, 2003
Council on Foreign Relations


U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) addressed the Council on Foreign Relations at its Annual Meeting in New York City on Friday, June 06, 2003, where he made the following remarks:

Remarks as Prepared for Delivery

Note: Remarks as prepared for delivery

It is an honor to join you this evening, especially at this magnificent Yale University Club.

I consider myself fortunate to have received my undergraduate degree from Princeton, and I’m proud to wear that Crimson Red from my medical degree from Harvard. So tonight it gives me great pleasure to know that I have just received my dinner for free from Yale.

Senator Mitchell, you are a model of the public servant I and all my colleagues aspire to emulate both on and off the Senate floor. Thank you for your kind words. And thank you for your leadership to America and on behalf of America to the world.

As Senator Mitchell knows, the position of Senate Majority Leader comes with great challenges.

Former Tennessee Senator and Majority Leader Howard Baker likened it to “herding cats” and “taming tigers.” But, based on my brief five months experience, I tend to agree most with that commentator who recently compared it to being like the groundskeeper at a cemetery: “At all times there are plenty of people underneath you ... but absolutely nobody is listening.”

I’m a doctor by training. I worked in medicine -- as a physician, as a researcher, as a scientist, and as a surgeon -- for 20 years before being elected to the United States Senate.

By virtue of its rules, the Senate empowers each individual member to address what they see as the leading issues that face America. I’m humbled by both the responsibility and the opportunity to give voice to those issues I care about deeply.

For me ... Majority Leader of the United States Senate is the pinnacle of public service.

The Senate offers the opportunity to serve beyond the Senate chamber and contribute to the broader causes of humanity. This is true while in office and, as George Mitchell has proven time and again, even after.

So I thank you for the honor to speak with you tonight. And I thank you for the opportunity to contribute to the debate about United States foreign policy at the dawn of the 21st century.

During my tenure as Senate Majority Leader, my intention -- indeed my commitment -- is to elevate global issues in the minds of the American people, so the American people -- armed with their will, their wealth, and their compassion -- can better the lives of the people of the world.

National security has properly dominated the foreign policy of this nation in recent years -- particularly since September 11, 2001. We must successfully meet those challenges to ensure the security -- and indeed the very survival -- of the United States.

This includes stopping and reversing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction; interrupting the drug trade and battling narco-terrorism; building a strong national defense; and elevating homeland security.

Clearly the greatest and most immediate threat to our national security is global terrorism. President Bush has successfully led the charge for America and indeed the world to face the new realities of the War on Terror.

We have disrupted terrorist networks, frozen terrorist assets, removed terrorist leaders, and arrested more than 3,000 individual terrorists worldwide. And we have toppled two of the world’s most notorious terrorist regimes with decisive victories in Afghanistan and Iraq.

That is real, tangible, measurable progress. The United States and our allies are on the offensive against terror. But we cannot -- we must not -- become complacent. Recent attacks in Saudi Arabia and Morocco prove terrorists can still effectively plan, coordinate, and execute deadly strikes.

The United States and our allies must continue to take the battle to the terrorists. For, if we don’t, terrorists will most certainly bring the battle to us.

Though attacks with conventional weapons concern me, I believe the greatest danger to America and indeed the world is the intersection of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.

Take the October 2001 anthrax attacks.

As the only physician in the United States Senate -- where the anthrax attacks were directed at our heart of government -- I witnessed first hand the panic and paralysis that ensued.

Little more than a thimble full of anthrax shut down an entire branch of the federal government, ground the United States Postal Service to a halt, forced thousands and thousands on antibiotics, infected 22 people up and down the East Coast, and tragically took the lives of five innocent men and women.

Imagine the panic and paralysis and the death and destruction a single terrorist self-infected with small pox could cause in the international terminal of a busy airport. Within a few hours in a lounge, hundreds of newly infected would board planes around the world to spread the highly lethal virus.

America could respond. Some countries in Europe could respond. But what about the developing world? What about the 42 million people with HIV/AIDS and others with suppressed immune systems? A successful global small pox attack could paralyze civil and military institutions and literally take the lives of millions in a matter of weeks.

Six weeks ago I led a Senate delegation to China, Taiwan, and Korea at the height of the outbreak of SARS. Just look at the recent spread of the SARS virus throughout Asia, Europe and North America. This limited outbreak -- which we have yet to fully contain -- continues to disrupt international travel and depress national economies.

SARS is just one of what will be a whole series of newly emerging infections over the near future. Indeed, SARS should serve as a warning to the world: we must better prepare for the global spread of infectious diseases -- whether unleashed by nature or by man.

Our government has responded aggressively to the threat of bioterrorism. We are rebuilding the public health system after a long period of neglect. This has enabled us to respond to the spread of SARS much more effectively than other countries.

We must continue to enhance our public health system to detect and respond to such emergencies. For we will see more. We must actively lead the way to develop new treatments and vaccines. And we -- with our friends and allies -- must not allow other countries to pursue offensive biological weapons programs.

President Bush has set the United States -- with the help of our allies -- on the proper course to ultimately win the war on terror. I am grateful that he and his talented national security team have answered the call to serve at this perilous time in our history.

But tonight I wish to address some other aspects of our foreign policy -- to paint a more complete picture of the challenges the people of the world face, and the American people can help overcome.

If we are to be more than a powerful nation, but one that is also a great nation, we must use our power, our influence, and our wealth to promote a better life for all people of the world.

We demonstrate both wisdom and character when we rise to defeat not only challenges that immediately threaten us, but also underlying problems that cause and contribute to those threats.

The United States must have a complete foreign policy.

Elements should include the promotion of human rights and democracy; the expansion of free trade and economic opportunity; effective public diplomacy; international efforts for cleaner air and clean energy; and the goal to meet the basic human needs of the developing world -- access to sufficient food and clean drinking water, and the prevention and treatment of disease.

In the past year, while the focus of the world’s attention and the media has largely been on war and terror, the Bush Administration has laid out an ambitious agenda to address many of these other priorities.

The United States is moving aggressively to expand opportunities for free trade. The United States has established itself as the world’s largest provider of food aid. And we are promoting a clean energy agenda that will improve the quality of life in the developing world in the short term and lead to a reduction in air pollution in the long term.

Also, an imaginative new approach to target and deliver foreign assistance -- the Millennium Challenge Account -- is currently being considered in the House and Senate.

This initiative will increase assistance to governments truly committed to better lives for their citizens. The Bush Administration is not only re-energizing support for foreign aid in Congress, they are actually increasing funds for foreign assistance programs.

As an aside, I should point out that between 2001 and 2008 the Bush Administration, with the support of the United States Senate, is on target to increase development assistance from $11 billion per year to $19 billion per year. This reversal of a decade-long slide is both welcome and long overdue.

Lastly, the leadership and partnership of the President and Congress has enabled the United States to establish itself as the leader in the fight against global HIV/AIDS. At the same time, we are quietly and purposefully advancing an agenda to assist the 1.1 billion people who do not have access to clean drinking water.

It is these last two points on which I would like to focus the remainder of my remarks.

Ten days ago I stood with President Bush, Secretary of State Colin Powell, and Secretary of Health and Human Resources Tommy Thompson in the State Department auditorium.

Surrounding us were leaders from 14 African and Caribbean nations struggling to combat HIV/AIDS. We came together to watch the President sign the most significant piece of public health legislation in history.

The U.S. Leadership Against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria Act of 2003 will provide $15 billion over five years to combat these global diseases. Equally important, it links for the first time the concepts of prevention, care, and treatment into a single comprehensive policy.

Remember ... this little virus was unknown in this country just 22 years ago when I was a surgical resident at Massachusetts General Hospital. Since then it has killed 23 million people.

Through this simple effort, 7 million new infections will be prevented. 2 million people will be treated. And 10 million HIV-infected individuals and AIDS orphans will be cared for.

But just as essential as the money, this law will build a new, robust infrastructure -- to better communicate with health workers, to educate, and to establish delivery systems.

And this infrastructure will serve as the foundation upon which a whole host of other medical and public health issues will be addressed for decades to come.

As a practicing physician, I cared for between ten and fifteen patients a day. To watch the President launch an effort to literally save millions of lives with the sweep of his pen fills my heart with awe, but also with pride.

It is a testament to the compassion and the character of this great nation that such an initiative -- financed with the hard-earned tax dollars of the American people -- passed Congress with overwhelming, bipartisan support.

And I am hopeful we can marshal the same will to lead to help overcome another of the world’s most daunting challenges -- the lack of access to clean, safe, and sanitary water.

The United Nations proclaimed the 1980s the International Drinking Water and Sanitation Decade. Though the international community learned much, they fell far short of reaching their goal to provide clean water to everyone in the world.

Today 1.1 billion people worldwide live without access to safe water. 2.4 billion live without adequate sanitation services. 10 thousand children die every day from water-born illness. Yes, 10 thousand children. That’s more than 1 child every 10 seconds.

Each year on my medical trips to Sudan, I meet farmers who cannot water their crops because they don’t have access to a nearby water supply; mothers who cannot work or be with their children because they spend seven hours a day just going to and from a well; and boys and girls who cannot expect to live long and healthy lives because they must drink water from a polluted stream or a roadside ditch.

As we are doing with HIV/AIDS, we must approach global challenges from a realistic and workable perspective. We must sharpen our focus from globalization to personalization.

Ideas matter. Information matters. Understanding matters. But only in the hands of an individual with the will to use that power to improve another human being’s life.

We should look to innovation and technology.

Innovative solutions that charge a small fee where appropriate are already used in South Africa to create a revolving fund that builds water infrastructure as it accumulates capital. Simple technologies can make water safe at the point of use in rural areas, just as infrastructure improvements bring clean water to the world’s growing cities.

These are just a few solutions. There are dozens more -- like “springboxes” that cost $1,000 to build and protect natural springs from animal waste and other elements that cause and spread disease. And there are hundreds, if not thousands, of people ready to lend their time and talent and energy to this cause.

Together, the international community, charitable organizations, faith-based organizations, and the private sector can partner to bring clean, safe and sanitized water to the people of the world. All we must do is tap the compassion and rally the will of the American people.

As members of the Council on Foreign Relations, we share a pride in our country, a passion for global issues, and a faith that good ideas and greater understanding help America make the world a more peaceful and livable place.

Les Gelb embodies this optimism more than anyone I know. I am grateful, I know all of you are grateful, and indeed the nation is grateful for his decade of outstanding service to this Council as its president.

Les, thank you for your leadership.

This same optimism led me to join the Council on Foreign Relations. And it propels me into the global arena from my medical mission work in Africa each year to my service as Majority Leader in the United States Senate each day.

Winning the battle against global HIV/AIDS and increasing access to clean water are enormous challenges. But if any nation at any moment in history can lead the fight to overcome them, it is the United States, and it is now.

I hope to lead the Senate in a direction that advances these broader causes of humanity. And I am confident the President will likewise continue to lead the nation toward these and other priorities that represent a complete foreign policy.

Since I joined this Council last year, I have often taken note of the influence of fellow members. When one of us delivers a speech, participates in a symposium, writes a scholarly article, or publishes a book, we are more than listened to; we are heard.

In the years to come, as we advance these issues, I hope to call upon you -- America’s leaders who are so devoted to challenges as big and ambitious as those I have discussed tonight.

So I thank you for your service to the nation’s foreign policy. And I thank you for the opportunity to join you as we work together to make the world a more peaceful and livable place.